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A piece of pottery with an inscription in Arabic from the Abbasid Period (9th-10th centuries CE) was discovered about one week ago in archaeological excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University at the Givati parking lot in the City of David, inside the Jerusalem Walls National Park. On the tiny object, one centimeter in size, a two-line Arabic inscription was engraved.
The inscription, deciphered by Dr. Nitzan Amiti-Price from the Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University, bears a private blessing or prayer:
Karim Ibtach B’Allah ﻳﺜﻳﻖ (?) ﺑﺍﻠﻠﻪ ﻛﺮﻳﻢ
Karim will trust in Allah
Rabo (Rav) HaOlamot Allah ﺮﺒﻪ ﺍﻠﻌﻠﻣﻳﻦ ﺍﻠﻠﻪ (?)
Allah is the Master of the Worlds
The wording of the first line is known from seals made of semi-precious gems, as well as road inscriptions (graffiti) along the route of pilgrims to Mecca (Darb al-Hajj) from the 8th-10th centuries CE. The lower part of the letters in the second line is worn, and its reading is based on similar wordings that appear on personal seals and in several Quran verses.
According to the excavation directors, Professor Yuval Gadot from Tel Aviv University and Dr. Yiftach Shalev from the Israel Antiquities Authority, “the size of the object, its shape, and the text on it, indicate that it was probably used as a talisman for blessing and protection.” The tiny object was discovered in a small room, sealed between plaster floors. Fragments of pottery discovered at the site, including a pottery lamp that was discovered intact, date to the Abbasid period.
“Unfortunately,” the researchers add, “the poor preservation of the remains makes it difficult to identify the purpose of the structure, but it is interesting to know that a number of items that show evidence of cooking operations were discovered here. Previous digs conducted at the site revealed modest buildings from this period that include residences that were combined with stores and workshops. Presumably the building served as part of that industrial area.”
The tiny amulet is a direct testimony to daily life in Jerusalem in the early Islamic period. It is not clear at this stage whether it was intentionally placed under one of the floors during construction, or whether the tiny object was carried by a man named Karim and got lost, but it seems that it was a charm whose inscription praising God was supposed to bring its owner a blessing.
According to the researchers, “since the amulet does not have a hole that allows it to be threaded on a string, it must be assumed that it was embedded in a piece of jewelry or placed inside some kind of container.”
Dr. Nitzan Amiti-Price, who deciphered the inscription, points out that seals made of semi-precious stones, bearing similar texts, are known from the Abbasid period, but such pottery objects, certainly ones so tiny, are relatively rare among archaeological finds.